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Scandals, Dick Cheney, and Lies July 17, 2009

Posted by Kate Ryan in CIA, Dick Cheney, National Politics, Politics.
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nm_cheney_090120_ssvI was 12 years old during the summer of 1974 with only boys, softball, boys, ice cream, boys, tennis, and boys on my mind.  All things considered, I was a pretty normal pre-teen girl spending a long, hot summer waiting for middle school to start.

What was far from normal that summer were the growing calls for the impeachment of President Nixon – one of those watershed events in American history that you can’t help remembering if you were alive.  On the night of August 8, 1974, my entire family was gathered around the television watching the President resign in disgrace.  My parents – ever products of the 50’s and fearful of activists and hippies – were stunned.  They had supported Nixon and even worked for his re-election; their feelings of betrayal and shame were palpable.

The actual Watergate break-in was a clumsy and stupid action by the Committee to Re-elect the President (CRP) in order to find out who the Democrat’s donors were.  Had the burglars from CRP fallen on their swords and “taken one for the team”, the American people may have never found out how deep within the government the scandal ran – and they would have never known that it touched the President at all.  Instead, the CRP began the obstruction of justice that would bring down the Presidency.  As many have said about Watergate – it wasn’t the crime, it was the cover-up.

What were the lessons of Watergate?  To the naive and ever-hopeful American people they were that justice would always prevail and that nobody – not even the most powerful men in the world – were above the law.  The darker lesson, learned by a young White House Deputy Counsel named Dick Cheney, was that as long as the wrong-doing did not touch the President – everything was permissible.  Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Bush the Elder, Ronald Reagan, and Bush the Younger began to craft the ideas and policies that lead them to the doctrine of the unitary executive – and to the looming scandal surrounding Cheney’s use (or misuse) of the CIA.

The neocons further refined their positions during the Iran-Contra affair in the later years of the Reagan administration.  In Iran-Contra, the United States – contrary to President Reagan’s pledge to never sell weapons to Iran – sold TOW anti-tank missiles, HAWK surface-to-air missiles, and other military hardware to Iran to secure the release of American hostages in Lebanon.  At the same time, Congress had passed legislation that prohibited the United States from providing military aid to the Nicaraguan Contra rebels – who were battling the Communist Sandinista government there.  A rabid anti-communist, Reagan was frustrated by his inability to provide assistance.  Thus, the plot was hatched whereby the U.S. government would secretly sell arms to Iran to secure the release of the hostages – then divert the funds to the Contra Rebels to purchase military equipment.  The CIA – who had a duty to report the program to Congress – failed to do so.

When the scandal broke a then-unknown member of the National Security Council, Marine Corps Lt Col Oliver North, said he diverted the funds with the full knowledge of National Security Adviser John Poindexter and, it was assumed, President Reagan.  The White House denied involvement in the affair and no direct evidence linking the President or Vice-President was ever uncovered.  Though 14 members of the administration were charged with “cover-up” crimes, not one spent any time in jail.  Oliver North, the loyal soldier who “fell on his sword”, had his conviction overturned on a technicality and six other co-conspirators were issued executive pardons.  The event was scandalous, but a success for the Cheney crew, the President remained untouched.

Fast forward to the news this last week regarding the counter-terrorism “hit squad” that the CIA was formulating.  According to CIA Director Leon Panetta, Congress was not briefed on the program at the direct behest of former Vice President Dick Cheney.  An absolute storm of controversy has exploded on both sides of the aisle at this disclosure.  Democrats are calling for an investigation – the National Security Act of 1947 states that the CIA must inform Congress of “the intelligence activities of the United States, including any significant anticipated intelligence activity.”  Republicans are trying to wiggle put of the obligation by pointing out that the program was never operational (an assertion disputed by Seymour Hersh, Pulitzer Prize winning journalist from The New Yorker).   Furthermore, several Republican Congressmen, Senators, and talking heads are trying to deflect attention from the issue at hand – that the Vice President of the United States subverted the Constitution and directed an agency of the United States government to lie to Congress – by publicly saying, “Who wouldn’t want to assassinate members of Al Qaeda?”  It’s not the program, fellas, it’s the cover-up.

This is just the latest in a string of disclosures that show the Bush Administration continually operating to subvert the Congress and the Constitution.  The Obama Administration has shown little stomach for investigating these matters and bringing them to light in the name of “moving forward” and “healing the nation”.   Unfortunately, history has shown us that sweeping this under the rug will only allow it to happen again and again – a lesson learned and appreciated by the man at the periphery of all the scandals – Dick Cheney.

Tortured Republican Relativism May 15, 2009

Posted by Kate Ryan in Dick Cheney, National Politics, Republicans, Torture.
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TortureRackBefore Niagara Falls, Ontario, built its rather fabulous casinos – a person visiting there was limited in his entertainment choices after taking in the waterfall.  A must-see became the chotchkey wax museums, the Ripley’s Believe It Or Not Museum, and the trashy souvenir stores along Clifton Hill.  Stretching about a mile and a half up from the falls, Clifton Hill was (and still is) a paradise of the weird, wild, and gruesome.

One of my favorite Clifton Hill attractions was the Medieval Torture Room exhibit at Ripley’s.  There, several implements used to torture human beings are on display along with descriptions of how they were used.  What I find fascinating is not only that  these things were used, but that actual people sat down and invented these things – items used only to “break” or cause pain to other human beings.   The inhumanity of it all leaves one breathless. 

Torture was accepted in the middle ages as de riguer; that is, it was the way that princes and kings, armies and churches, got their information.  Sometimes they got it right, often times they got it wrong, but at all times it was the way of doing business.

A popular form of torture was The Rack (pictured here).  The implement was breathtaking in its simplicity and unparallelled in its ability to cause great amounts of pain without death.  A person to be tortured was placed spread-eagle on the frame, his arms and legs tied to rollers at either end.  As his inquisitor asked him questions, the slack from the ropes was slowly rolled in, causing mild discomfort at first, but finally ending in the poor bastard’s arms and kegs being pulled from their sockets.  The tortured could end it his pain at any time by just giving the inquisitor the answer he wanted to hear.   A few times things went wrong when an over-zealous torturer would actually pull the prisoner’s arms and legs clean-off, but mostly it was effective in just causing excruciating pain. 

I’ve been thinking a lot about The Rack these days as we discuss the waterboarding of Arab detainees in U.S. custody.  There are some that will argue that waterboarding – or simulated drowning – is not torture.  To me, use of the waterboard is no different than use of the rack.  Neither one will actually kill you – unless it is not done properly – but they both are designed to instill fear and pain (and if there’s anyone who doesn’t think there’s pain associated with drowning, he’s a fool).   We Americans recognized waterboarding as torture and a crime when we prosecuted and convicted Japanese soldiers after World War II for doing it.  Yet we are treated to almost daily defenses of the procedure – along with others – by the neo-con nuts that brought us the Iraq War. 

The latest defenders of American torture are former Vice-President Dick Cheney and his daughter Lynn.  The Cheney family torture tour seeks to absolve the Price of Darkness of any culpability in waterboarding prisoners of war and the overall torture and abuse of said prisoners.  Cheney’s defense of the former administration’s actions is two-fold; first, it led to actionable intelligence that thwarted terrorist attacks and kept the U.S. safe, and second, that there were legal opinions supporting the use of “enhanced interrogation techniques” and were, therefore, permissable.

This is the worst sort of moral relativism – the sort used only when it serves an individual purpose.  In most cases, things are either right or they are wrong.  These ideals are based upon values we – as a society – have shared for thousands of years.  To faithful Christians, these absolutes are natural law – passed down from God himself.  Christians use moral absolutes to argue against issues that are really important to them like abortion and gay rights.  They will shake a finger at those of us that are less fundamentalist or absolutist and will say that “killing the innocent is ALWAYS wrong”, except if they’re Iraqi civilians at a wedding reception.  Then it’s “regrettable, but the price of war.”   They will “tsk-tsk” those of us that support gay marriage and will pass laws because “homosexuality is against God’s law”, except if it’s one of their mega-church ministers that’s the gay person.  Then it’s “sad”, but they pray for his recovery – all the while kicking him out of his church, his home, and even his state of residence.   That the Republicans should employ this sort of relativism to torture is not really a surprise – but it is stunning nonetheless. 

I never thought I’d ever see an American justify torture.  Ever.